In the most dramatic game of its 2016 campaign, the Yale women’s soccer team slew Ivy League front runner Columbia in an overtime stunner Saturday night.
The Lions (7–5–4, 4–1–1 Ivy), who led the Ancient Eight entering their matchup with the Elis, had outscored their conference opponents by a 6–0 margin this year and had not allowed a goal in more than 700 minutes. They represented a formidable challenge for Yale (6–6–3, 2–3–1), which had been eliminated from title competition a week prior after falling 1–0 to Penn.
When Columbia found the net midway through the second half, the Bulldogs looked destined for more disappointment — until a 90th minute goal from forward Michelle Alozie ’19 rekindled hope. Then, just three minutes into overtime, midfielder Geneva Decker ’17 made it a senior day to remember, launching a strike into the net and securing a 2–1 upset.
“We weren’t fighting for an Ivy League title, but despite our record, this team has been one of the best in terms of chemistry,” Decker said. “This is definitely a storybook ending.”
The first half started poorly for the Elis, who could not manage even a shot until the 28th minute — of their three attempts of the period, none worked Columbia keeper Allison Spencer. Columbia, with its intimidating defensive line yet middling attack, shut down the Yale offense while only taking four shots of its own. After 45 minutes of fruitless effort from both squads, the teams retired to the locker rooms knotted at 0–0.
The Bulldogs, who had conceded the opening goal in nine of their previous 11 matches, again found the early lead elusive. Once more, Yale’s opponent drew first blood when Lions forward Amaris Hemmings scored her second goal of the season in the 68th minute. Eli goalie Alyssa Fagel ’20 came too far off her line during a Columbia breakaway, and Hemmings blew past her and knocked the ball into the empty net for a 1–0 lead. As the clock ticked towards 90:00 — as the end of the season drew nearer and as the five seniors experienced their last moments on the Reese Stadium pitch — another disappointing result seemed imminent.
Yet at the very last second, salvation came from the foot of Alozie. With 12 seconds left in regulation, Alozie corralled the ball in a chaotic penalty box and somehow found the net, sending the crowd into a frenzy. Disappointment replaced with determination, the Bulldogs then prepared for sudden death overtime.
“Our never-give-up attitude is indicative to all the work we’ve done off the field this season,” captain and defender Colleen McCormack ’17 said. “We all played for each other tonight, which is when we have the most fun. I’m unbelievably proud of this team.”
Despite being the clear underdogs and having just stood at the brink of defeat, the momentum was squarely on the side of the Elis during the extra period. This time, after a season spent giving up early goals, Yale was the first to capitalize.
Forward Aerial Chavarin ’20 charged forward with the ball, taking on two defenders who attempted to stop Yale’s leading scorer. Decker, unguarded, took a deft through-ball from Chavarin and was one-on-one with Spencer.
“The ball went to Aerial Chavarin’s feet, and I could see that she was holding up the defender.” Decker said. “I knew that she’d find me. She gave it to me on a silver platter, and I [only] had to take a touch.”
In the final home game of her career, the senior midfielder seized the reins and steered her team to victory. Decker’s shot evaded Spencer, winning the game in the most unbelievable of fashions. As players rushed from the sidelines and fans stormed onto the field, the Yale squad enjoyed one of its most magical nights in recent memory.
Looking forward, this victory will not help the Bulldogs win their first Ivy League title since 2005.
However, head coach Rudy Meredith has his eyes set on a win in next weekend’s season finale against Brown. To win and end fourth in the final conference standings, Meredith said, would be a satisfying improvement over 2015’s last-place finish.
For the Lions, Saturday’s loss complicates what had looked like an easy route to the Ivy League title. Now Columbia is ranked second behind Harvard and must beat the Crimson next weekend to take the crown.
But above all, the win was a moment of vindication for the 2016 Bulldogs. At times this season, the team showed it was capable of playing with the cream of the crop, but ill-timed mistakes — especially on set pieces — became their downfall. On Saturday, the Elis finally put it all together, giving their seniors a worthy endnote to their careers.
“I might have pulled my hamstring running out to congratulate Geneva,” Meredith said. “[The seniors] won’t have any more chances in their lives to experience that feeling on the field again, so I really wanted it for them. It was just an unbelievable moment for Yale soccer.”
Yale’s final game of the season is next Saturday against Brown. The ball kicks off in Providence at 3:30 p.m.